Excited to listen to this book as an audiobook when I get an Audible credit next week. “The Anomaly,” a novel by Hervé Le Tellier that has become a French literary phenomenon, and was released in translation in the United States by Other Press on Tuesday.
Even so, “The Anomaly” is an outlier. Published in the late summer of 2020, the novel has sold 1.1 million copies here, more than any book since Marguerite Duras’s “The Lover,” which came out in 1984. In an anomalous time, when a deserted Paris was in lockdown for months, and much of life moved online, the novel struck a powerful chord by suggesting the flimsiness of all we take for granted, what T.S. Eliot called “the old dispensation.”
A year ago, the novel won the 2020 Goncourt, which always boosts sales, but then something unusual happened: It kept selling. Initially, Le Tellier’s editor thought he had chosen “a bad title.” Speaking in his cluttered Montmartre apartment, the author agreed that “The Anomaly” was “a flat title, even if it’s a pretty word.”
Yet in the end the double anomaly at the heart of the novel — the upending of time in a world that discovers it is simulated — captured a moment when the pandemic stopped the world and existence veered toward the virtual.
“I am surprised by the book’s success given that it’s so experimental, bizarre and a little crazy,” Le Tellier, 64, whose more than two dozen previous works never made best-seller lists, said. “Perhaps reading it was a means of escape.”
The novel, which was translated into English by Adriana Hunter, begins with the description of several seemingly unrelated characters: a ruthless contract killer named Blake; an architect called André Vannier, whose girlfriend Lucie Bogaert, a movie editor, is about half his age and has lost interest in him; a down-on-his-luck novelist, Victor Miesel, who, in one of Le Tellier’s many literary artifices, provides the epigraph for the novel, “A true pessimist knows it is already too late to be one.”